Friday, July 1, 2016

Meet the Movie Activist

The Movie Activist.  A good name.  Don't think anyone's actually used it yet, or if they have, at least nothing of consequence has ever come from it.

But in setting up this blog, it helps to understand what exactly is a Movie Activist, before jumping in and setting up any ambitious manifestos.  You're probably asking too.  Put it this way:
A Greenpeace activist loves nature enough to run his inflatable speedboat in front of big bad whaling ships to try and stop them from wiping dolphins and beluga whales off the face of the earth in the name of commerce.

A Movie Activist loves the movie experience enough to try and run his little boat in front of Warner, Wal-Mart, Universal and Sony, to try and stop them from wiping movies off the face of the earth in the name of commerce.

We're enjoying our movies in a time no one ever dreamed of forty years ago--
We can choose our movies like books off a shelf.  We don't have to wait for them on TV.  We can collect them in our home like we once collected novelizations, soundtrack albums and action figures to remind us of them.  Where our local theaters once stocked three movies, and you hoped the one you wanted to see was nearby, the local mall now offers a 12-screen sample of every movie currently playing, with better sound, better screens, and 3-D that actually works, and that's considered average.  Some services are now even letting you not even go to the trouble of getting out of your chair to even go to that theater, or hike across the room to that bookshelf that holds those movies, for your added connectivity and convenience.

Movies, movies everywhere.  More and more to see, and, ironically, fewer and fewer places to see them.

Our ability to see movies moved from the screen to broadcast TV, to cable, to home theater, and then to the streaming Internet, and then to the new Cloud Libraries that promised, like the clouds of Heaven, that our shelves of movies would reside there "forever" to remember every so often.
But when they moved, they didn't stay where they left:  Broadcast TV fell away from movies when HBO didn't need to require censorship or commercials, cable TV fell behind DVD and Blu-ray when Netflix--that's the by-mail service, for those who remember it--could offer our movies without a set schedule.  And Netflix is now in the process of folding its expensive, snail-mailing physical disks, so that their Instant service can bring us those movies without postage, waiting or three-day returns.
Which was all well and good.  Until the movies started disappearing off of Instant Netflix, because studios didn't feel that being paid once a month was direct enough license income.

And if they're not on TV, and they're not on cable, and they're not in college-town revival theaters, and they're not on subscription/streaming, that raises the last question:  Then, where ARE they?

"Oh, oh, I know!" some hands shoot up.  "They're on Blu-ray!"  Well, yes.  And DVD.
And there are some companies that would like to remove that answer too.  Disks are a risky business deal to take out into large-scale mainstream wide-release retail--consider the cost of plastic and cardboard for ten thousand disks of Alice Through the Looking Glass that no one's bought yet, or is likely to--and studios are increasingly hoping to avoid it whenever possible.
It's one thing for Warner to almost literally be afraid to release any title onto Best Target shelves that we're not already cult-familiar with to buy again--Like the Dark Knight Trilogy, the Hobbit Trilogy, the Harry Potter Octology/Nonology (depending on how you categorize the upcoming "fake" one), or Se7en packaged in a brand new stylized "What's In the Box Edition", which name makes not the slightest bit of sense unless you've, well...already seen the movie, have an intimate personal relationship with it, and can have your cult-dialogue button stroked on demand.

Everything else has now been moved to the Warner Archive, where those in search of a, gasp, rare movie can order a one-off MOD disk, in a nice, respectable pressing, assuming, of're anal enough to actually want a disk of 42nd St. or The Great Race in your own home.  Nitpicker.
At first it was the rare unsellable movies only cine-historians had heard of, like Al Jolson musicals or Bowery Boys comedies.  And then it slowly became everything.  The Fred and Ginger boxsets.  The Val Lewton collection.  Danny Kaye, Akira Kurosawa, the 50's B-movie classics, anything that could be classified as "Catalog", or at least wasn't part of the Holy Warner Trilogy of Disks People Buy.

It's another thing for Warner to be so determined that their flagging flagship Flixster, in the "new industry" of  Ultraviolet's cloud libraries, has got a hold of the future, they intend to convince the public it's the future whether they want it or not.
We're told of our own "fears" that our disk collection will break or be lost.  We're told how annoyed we are about  having to find shelf space for them or take them, quote, "on the go".  (Which I've never done except on airline trips, and even then had to be on a laptop DVD since most flights don't allow enough WiFi in-flight to stream video.)  With their astounding feats of mind reading, their advertising copy now tells us how dearly we viewers wish someone would rid ourselves of those turbulent disks, like Henry II complaining about Thomas a Becket.
It's the first step of the Movie Activist to say "Warner?...MIND YOUR OWN DANGED BUSINESS!  Which 'business', if I recall, was finding some way to continue to generate continuing income and exposure for your studio library of movies."  And that's a little hard to do when they're telling us we only like new ones from after 1985, but don't want to buy them.

If an Activist needs a slogan, here's one to start on:  "Know your movies.  SHOW your movies."
Keep them handy, drag a friend over on Saturday night, and make him watch something.  Preferably something you know for a fact he's never seen but is going to remember, that will warp him for life--in the good way--and if you're lucky, he might even thank you for it.
If you don't have a friend (well, some of us movie buffs may have small social circles), go on a campaign to surprise yourself:  Rent a movie you think you know without ever having seen, and sit all the way through it, for the scenes you don't know.  (We can quote at least an hour of isolated Godfather or Gone With the Wind dialogue off the top of our heads just from pop-cultural exposure, that leaves two hours of terra incognita for those who haven't actually seen them.)

If you want a literary reference, consider the end of Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451":  Printed material was now considered to be antisocial, and burned for the public's good and their new progressive disinterest in it...But our hero discovers an isolated cult that still commits David Copperfield and Pride & Prejudice to their memory brain cells, preserving them the hopes that the social pendulum would swing and books--and the thrill of the Story--would one day come back again, rather than permanently be made extinct by the social ideas of the day.

Unlike Bradbury's (or Francois Truffaut's) characters, those of us who were Movie Activists without a name may not have been wandering aimlessly about the woods reciting Dickens, but some of us at least know a Dickens novel--or a Fred Astaire musical, now available on Warner Archive MOD disk--when we see one.

That's the idea, anyway.  Let's see what happens.

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